All-Veteran-Amputee Softball Team warming up pre-game at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
Photo by James Shea, Tucson VA Medical Center
Who’s on first?
A Veteran…with courage, skill, and a ton of mental toughness.
On May 6, a dozen or so Veterans who have lost a limb…or two…will take the field against an able-bodied softball team from the FBI.
Last month, there was this history making All-Veteran-Amputee softball game hosted by the University of Arizona in Tucson. These guys played so well they’ve decided to come east and take on all comers.
And so far that includes able-bodied teams from the FBI, Walter Reed staff and the Naval Academy Varsity Sailing team at Annapolis. Later in the year, the Vet team will play the police and fire departments in New York City.
The first game will be Friday, May 6, at the George Mason University Softball Complex. (Full schedule and directions below.)
This all got started when David Van Sleet, VA Southwest Health Care Network prosthetics manager and softball coach, sent out an announcement of a congressionally funded training camp through the VA and Wounded Warrior Project seeking athletic, competitive amputee veterans with softball or baseball experience.
He got over 200 responses.
“There are a lot of rehabilitation events in the VA system, but very few are this active, highly competitive, athletic and a team sport — that’s what I think was missing in these guys’ lives,” Van Sleet said.
“They all wanted to be a member of a team again, but there really wasn’t that avenue anywhere for them to do that.”
The softball training camp in March brought 20 Veteran amputees together in what Van Sleet called an uplifting experience for everyone.
“The minute they met, there was an instant bond between them,” he said.
Army Vet Michael Meinen, catcher, gets an RBI in the intramural game.
Michael Meinen will be catching for the All-Amputee Team. An Army Veteran of Iraq, Mike lost a leg when a rocket hit his vehicle in an ambush near Fallujah. He had an RBI in the intramural game and is ready for the FBI.
He’s also ready for Veterans at the Amarillo VA Health Care System in his role as Chief of Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service. In charge of the day-to-day operations of the service, he helps to arrange for everything from handheld computers to software for blind Veterans.
“My own experience helps me bond with the Vets. I can tell them I was there. They seem to relate better to someone with a similar story. I know they’re nervous and wondering about their future. I was.”
Along with the trip back east for the games, the Idaho native will also celebrate this summer his 10th wedding anniversary with his wife Amber who, along with his “beautiful daughters” Abigail and Madison, get the credit for helping him make it through rehab and the tough times after he returned from combat.
Josh Wege, Marine Veteran and pitcher, lost both of his legs below the knee in combat in Afghanistan.
Josh Wege, a handsome young Marine Veteran, took time from his transitioning out of Walter Reed Army Medical Center to pitch in the All-Amputee game. It helped his team that he was one of the real jocks on his squad, having lettered in football and baseball (.300) in high school in Wisconsin.
Josh lost both of his legs below the knee in combat in Afghanistan. He was helped throughout his rehabilitation with visits from his family, especially a long stay by his twin brother, “who took it all pretty hard, but he got used to it,” Josh remembers.
He describes his experiences with the strong detachment of a person determined to make the best of his situation. “I dream in prosthetics. Sure, I had your predicable depression at first but I decided to just suck it up and realized that, compared to some of the other guys, I didn’t have it that bad.”
He plans to translate that courageous perspective into a career helping others. “I want to major in psychology in college and then help people get through ordeals that may seem insurmountable to them at first.”
The former MP, who is also starting to pick up a few guitar chords, does not hesitate to say, “I’d do it all over again. It was my purpose in life.”
Josh attributes his strength and resolve to “trust in God. He touched my life. I’ve learned that everything is not in my control.”
David Van Sleet
David Van Sleet has been working with prosthetics for more than three decades and involved with softball even longer.
It was inevitable that the Veterans Affairs Southwest prosthetics manager and Army veteran would combine his two passions, and the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball team was born.
Van Sleet said he hoped the softball games will bring awareness of the sacrifices made by the military and the price many Veterans continue to pay for their service.
“Even though these guys suffered a serious setback, they’re able to overcome it, persevere and move forward,” he said.
“I’m a little slower than I used to be, but otherwise I really don’t see a difference. I get to park in the front row now — that’s about it”
— Will Silva, Marine Corps Veteran
And how have the Veterans reacted to participating in the games?
A few excerpts from letters they sent David:
“I don’t know if you’ll ever know how much you did for the 20 guys that participated last week. I think we’re all still on a cloud.”
“I’ve carried a chip on my shoulder for a long time thinking I was good enough to play ball but never getting a chance to prove it. Thank you for giving me that chance and bringing me that peace of mind.”
“David, you definitely made my year with that camp. I can't think of anything besides my family that makes me that happy.”
Army Veteran Norberto Lara, outfielder, sent one “outtahere!” Then left for Germany to tell the troops about the Wounded Warrior Project.
Photo by Kathy Manley
For a dramatic look at the history making game: Video on YouTube. VA is not responsible for external website content.